Walking up to the Smell Friday night, I see a slight man with bushy hair and unusually well-tailored casual wear walking a few feet behind. Ian Svenonius walking the streets is just like finding a mint copy of a Beatles Butcher LP in a dollar bin, a serendipitous October surprise. So I asked him how the Chain And The Gang tour was going. He wearily replied, “We’ve been on tour for 43 days, with only two days off. I’m kind of tired, but it’s a good time, I guess.” An honest answer. His newest band, Chain And The Gang, is on tour with The Hive Dwellers, Calvin Johnson of K Records’ new group. While both Ian and Calvin shared the same backing band, the two live experiences varied drastically.
The Hive Dwellers participated in an odd exercise of audience confrontation by playing as quietly as possible. Calvin’s trademark baritone tends to carry more than the average voice, but it just seemed unnecessarily precious to perform without a microphone. It didn’t help that a rather bass heavy event was happening directly next door and was bleeding through the walls. The whisper tone of their performance went from charming to annoying in about two minutes…and I really like Calvin Johnson. The songs were great, just poorly communicated in the context of their environment. Johnson’s attempts to engage the audience were met with shouts of “What is he saying?” and looks of befuddlement.
On the other hand, not only were Chain And The Gang volume appropriate, they were totally engaging and hilariously fun. The audience was now confronted with direct questions, “So what do you guys wanna talk about?” The audience immediately responded, “Let’s talk about YOU!” Ian’s feigned attempt at being flattered was demonstrative of why Sassy magazine once dubbed Svenonious the “Sassiest Boy in America.” While no longer a “boy” in terms of years, the sass on his flower has not withered, as he and his “gang” revealed they were a funky, tight, snared affair that totally untied my mind from my behind. They put down the sound of the JB’s sharing the bill with the Hendrix Experience—it was a groove.
Veronica Ortuño (of Finally Punk) Sarah Pedal shared the microphone duties with Svenonius, engaging in a wry call and response that took songs such as “Reparations,” “Trash Talk,” and “Deathbed Confession” to a very sweaty and funky place. Svenonious himself gave off the ambiance of an ecstatic minister proselytizing on the forbiddingly secular, emphasizing the downbeat and preaching to the flock. They figuratively brought down the house, ending with a new song called “Detroit Music,” a Hendrix/Stooges hybrid recounting the gifts of music and wheels from Motor City, U.S.A. However road weary Chain And The Gang may have been, they certainly know how to throw off their chains and get down on it.
CORRECTION: According to the Chain and The Gang press materials, Veronica Ortuno is a member of Chain and the Gang and sang on the record. But the other singer in the band was actually the one onstage—Sarah Pedal. The correct information is that Sarah Pedal was the singer that evening.